I'm Great at Giving Wedding Speeches—But Here's the One Thing I'd Never Do During My Toast

I’ve seen some of my funniest friends flop during their speech

wedding-speeches: the bride, groom and best man.
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Allow me to not-so-humble brag for a second: I’m really good at wedding speeches.

I’ve now officiated four weddings, given a best man speech, delivered a half dozen wedding toasts and I’ve helped a number of friends write wedding speeches. These public displays of my affection for the happy couple are always well received, and there’s one large reason why my speeches go over better than those of others: I don’t wing it and I don’t go off script.

You may now be thinking to yourself, duh, of course I’d prepare my remarks in advance. But that’s not what I mean. I don’t just prepare. I write out every. Single. Word. And then I read every. Single. Word. No deviation. No improv. No winging it.

The Horror Story

Everyone thinks they can lightly prepare their wedding speech or toast and just riff in the moment. This is a huge mistake. Best men, maids of honor, officiants, parents of the bride or groom—I’ve seen them all transform from happy-go-lucky wedding guests to deer in headlights right before my very eyes. They only prepare some bullet points. Or they decide they’ll just tell a funny story. But things never go over as they want. Inevitably, nerves take over, jokes don’t land, things they wanted to say get left out. Or even worse, the speech will go on and on and on while we all sit in our seats silently screaming to ourselves, Land the freaking plane, Grandma!

I’ve seen some of my funniest friends absolutely bomb during a wedding speech even though I know they’re good public speakers. Why? They jot down a couple notes and try to just “be in the moment.”

At a recent wedding in upstate New York, I watched one of the funniest people I’ve ever met (no exaggeration, honestly) start sweating bullets during his best man toast. He clearly had prepared a couple of jokes that he thought he could somehow navigate between in the moment. But when his first joke didn’t land, he began to panic. He began stuttering. He began searching through his notes for a way to salvage the moment. His voice began to quiver. The speech…wasn’t great. But it wasn’t the worst one of the night.

The other groom’s best man didn’t lose confidence. In fact, I’m pretty sure he thinks he delivered the best wedding speech in history. But he’d be wrong. His speech went on for sooooo long. He glanced down at a couple of notes he had brought with him periodically, basically as a reminder of the embarrassing story about the groom he wanted to tell next. With no script to read from, he had no idea that he lost his audience at about minute five and that by minute 11 we were all looking at our watches wondering how much longer it'd be before we could dance the damn Cha-Cha Slide.

This all could have been avoided…

My Foolproof Advice

At the same wedding that I watched these two loved ones struggle, I officiated a ceremony that was followed by handshakes and back pats from every friend I knew and every family member I’d never met before. It was a success because I had crafted (and rehearsed) a ceremony over the course of weeks—and then I read exactly what I had written down.

A wedding speech isn’t easy, but I would highly discourage anyone from leaving anything to chance. On the contrary, I recommend crafting a speech, practicing it, honing jokes, cutting out unnecessary details and practicing in front of a trusted friend. And then, when you get out in front of the crowd, just stick to the script. It hasn’t failed me yet!

A Few Other Tips

Besides keeping things scripted, I do have a few other small pieces of advice I can offer. First of all, keep it brief. It’s much better to err on the side of too short than too long. Second, don’t make it about yourself—keep it about the bride or groom. In fact, why not make a joke out of that? Early on in my wedding speech or toast, I’ll introduce myself and how I know the bride or groom, followed by the line, “But today isn’t about me…at least according to the program.” Cue the laughter. It kills every time, and it breaks the ice early on. (Feel free to steal it—the best comedians steal from one another.)

And that brings me to my next two tips: break the ice right away and make things funny. Breaking the ice can be difficult, so I recommend either making a self-deprecating joke right at the top of your speech (I personally go with, “You probably recognize me as the one who looks like Adrian Brody, only more sinewy and with less money”) or encouraging everyone to be loud right away (“This isn’t one of those quiet weddings so let’s give a big, rowdy round of applause for our bride and groom…”).

And include jokes where you can, but keep it clean. No one wants to awkwardly look over to the mother of the groom to see how she’s reacting after you make an off-color joke. Jokes can also be difficult, but that’s why you practice in advance (and why you practice in front of a friend). Keep the ones that work and ditch the ones that don’t.

You’ll Be Fine

The biggest thing to remember? This isn’t a life-or-death situation. This is a day of celebration where everyone wants you to succeed in your toast. And if you prepare in advance, practice your script and then read it word for word, you’ll have nothing to be nervous about. Before you know it, you’ll be high fiving the father of the bride as he congratulates you for totally nailing your speech.

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VP, News and Entertainment; 'And Just Like That' Podcast Host; Up-And-Coming Bowler

Philip spearheads PureWow's news and entertainment team. He has 10+ years experience working in entertainment coverage and viral media, previously serving as a writer/editor...